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No kissing?

February 17th, 2009

Sometimes, it just feels like the world is drowning in stupid.

Farcical airport security

December 30th, 2008

If ever you doubted that airport security is an hilarious farce, read this wonderful story about an adventure with the TSA screeners.

Hat tip: Schneier on Security.

No. 10 response to ID cards petition

August 13th, 2008

Downing St have responded to another anti-id cards petition with yet more mealy words:

However, identity cards will be phased in for the wider UK population on an entirely voluntary basis.

…until you want a passport, and probably in time a drivers’ license or CRB check. Then it’s suddenly not voluntary anymore, as you can’t get one without the other.

You will not be fined if you refuse to provide fingerprint biometrics, you simply will not be recorded on the NIR and will not receive an identity card. There are no criminal penalties for not applying for an identity card.


You will be given a reasonable period of time to contact IPS in the case of updates to the NIR and there will be no criminal penalty for those who fail to contact IPS. 

There will indeed be no criminal penalties. Specifically in order to avoid poll tax-esque matyrdom en masse, an entirely new kind of fine has been invented: the civil penalty. This marvellously self-contradictory idea is exactly the same as a fine, except that it’s not criminal, so the court (probably) cannot send you to prison for not paying it.They just attach your earnings instead.The quotes given above are not lies, but they are deeply misleading and dishonest.

Under the legislation in the Identity Cards Act 2006 no services may be made dependent on the production of an identity card. You will not be prevented from renting or selling a home, staying in a hotel, buying a car, registering with a doctor or from accessing any other public or private services just because you do not hold an identity card.

This is indeed true: but it is not the point. Such services will required ID cards eventually, anyway. There is clearly no point in a gold standard of identity if people do not require it. If a gold standard existed, why would you accept anything else? If people do not have an ID card, they will not be able to use services which require them, whether the legislation says so or not.

The critical missing word from this response is “yet”. There is no explicit compulsion, yet. Making services dependent on production of a card is indeed not allowed, yet. This will change. If it did not, it would defeat the point in having identity cards in the first place.

Even this government aren’t that stupid.

Prosecuting fare-dodgers

August 11th, 2008

Why are we wasting time dragging through the courts people who’ve neglected to pay a 90p fare? Worse still, why are we hampering these people’s lives with criminal records?

Why are diluting the seriousness of criminal records with fare dodgers, anyway? Why is it even a criminal offence? Why not just a tort? Why are we criminalising people over such trivia?


Join up the dots, for God’s sake!

June 21st, 2008

According to a recent YouGov poll (hat tip: Ideal Government), 75% of people think that lots of CCTV is a good idea; 50% would like to see a universal police DNA database; 55% would like centralised NHS records and 45% of people support mandatory ID cards… yet only 35% of those polled thought that it was a good idea for the government to collect more personal data.

As far as I’m concerned, this is clear evidence that people simply do not understand the implications of these schemes. It would be interesting to see two versions of this poll conducted: one where they ask the personal data question first, and another where they ask it last. I would bet good money that the first poll would show much less support for these schemes than the second — a small reminder can work wonders.

Perhaps a few more HMRC-esque data catastophies will place more firmly in people’s minds the risks attached to the aggregation of massive quantities of private data…

42 days

June 12th, 2008

Appalling. How did this ogre of a bill pass? What has possessed the DUP?

For all this talk of Gordon Brown’s authority, it’s telling that he couldn’t get his own party to vote for this. I shan’t lay the blame entirely at his feet: it’s not like this is a controversial but important bill for the general good, an unpopular but necessary reform: no, this is dangerous, illiberal political theatre. A misguided attempt from Brown to appear “tough”, to affirm his national security credentials with a measure that won’t help, and that will result in injustice.

Of course, the Lords will bat this down, and it’ll go back to the commons, and then this drama will unfold all over again. It is my deeply held hope that Brown’s already crumbling house will disintegrate completely by the time the Bill comes back, that the DUP will come to their senses and that even more Labour MPs will abandon it.

We can only hope.

Rights & Responsibilities

March 12th, 2008

I doubt that one could find three other words that so provoke my ire as these*.

The assumption which is inherent in those that ascribe to this view is that our rights as citizens are accorded to us by the state, at its discretion. That in the absence of its approval, we have no rights. The appropriate situation is precisely the reverse.

Our responsibilities are not currency; they are not some instrument by which we prove to the state that we are deserving of liberty. Our rights, as citizens in a liberal democracy, are innate: it is our rights that are sacrosanct and is is the state’s responsibility to ensure that, in all of its actions, the sovereignty of the law-abiding individual is not compromised.

This is why ID cards are bad. Why must a citizen be forced to submit themselves to the State for interrogation in the absence of due cause?

This is why rampant deployment of CCTV is unacceptable. Why should the authorities be permitted to observe me, without my knowledge, and without any indication that I have committed some wrong?

This is why ANPR systems are bad. Why should the police maintain two years’ worth of data about my journeys by car, when I have committed no crime?

The individual has innate rights and adopted responsibilities; the state has adopted rights and innate responsibilities. Its rights exist only so long as its legitimacy is maintained, and its legitimacy depends on the consent of the individual: government, by the consent of the governed. Citizens cannot consent to be governed by a body which, at its discretion, gives them the right to make such consent in the first place. That is a nonsense.

Henry Porter made this point, among others, in his recent evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights last week. It’s a great essay, absolutely worth reading. Go!

*Ok: that’s not true. We could start with “Gillian McKeith Rules” and move swiftly on to “nothing to hide…”

More manifest stupidity

March 5th, 2008

You know how sometimes you see a news story and your brain just revolts? When the sheer, cretinous absurdity of something just wells up and overcomes the faculties?

This initiative, to protect those who cannot concurrently walk and chew gum, exists to erect padding on lamposts, so that people walking into them don’t get a bump.

If this were an actual problem, which Harry doubts, his solution would be far simpler. He would erect signs in the affected areas:


Assets seized without trial?

February 27th, 2008

The capacity of this government to come up with ideas so bad, so damaging to personal liberty that you just want to scream, is astonishing.

The latest idea to emanate from the Home Office is that drug dealers’ assets should be seized on arrest, rather than on prosecution. Presumably, this suggestion is motivated by the realisation that the ARA’s total lack of success can largely be placed at the feet of due process and equality before the law. Having spent £65m recovering £23m of criminal assets, it’s understandable that they’re a little ticked off.

It’s easy to see the next bit of the story. Rich criminals with lots of money can afford to hire rich lawyers and accountants to hide their assets and generally screw up the government’s plans. It’s clearly better simply to steal money from people who are arrested, most of whom will not be wealthy and will thus be considerably less likely to be able to defend themselves. Excellent: this will make the job of our friends the ARA much easier. No more need for lawyers and courts, we can simply take the gains of suspects, presumed without evidence to be ill-gotten, and bank them for the common good. Huzzah!

The real agenda here is clear:

The new strategy will widen what can be seized and scrap the 12-year limit within which recovery proceedings must be taken.

The government aims to recover £250m a year from criminals by 2010.

Given that they’re currently running at a £43m deficit, they have to get more money somehow, and robbing the poor is a time-tested way to do it. Smith assures us, graciously, that they will give assets back to anyone found to be “completely innocent”.

Well that’s OK then.

Find out what they’re asking, and then TellThemWhatYouThink

February 23rd, 2008

Over the last few months I’ve been working on a site to index government consultations and present them centrally, so that you can search them, subscribe to email alerts for new consultations, and get juicy feeds for your reader.

The site went live a couple of weeks ago and has been attracting an unexpected, but entirely welcome, amount of attention!

If you’re interested in consultations — or if you think you could be — have a peep at, and let me know your thoughts.